The Engine-Turned Plaque Belt

Always keeping an eye for the details

One of the most headache-inducing themes that I see from clansmen who are unknowingly part of the Brainless Masses Tribe (a proud native people who make up a sizable population, where common behavior includes cultural propensities for loving guns, eating burgers, and watch adult males in tights and helmets take out human aggression on a “grid iron”, and who are common throughout all regions of the United States of ‘Murica) is the natural predisposition to think that BIGGER IS ALWAYS BETTER. You see examples of this dated mantra everywhere.

A monolith chronograph watch that your street smart friend, who likes wearing a flat billed baseball cap with the metallic sticker badge still attached, likes to have on his wrist when heading out to the club and then makes his shoulder joints sore by the end of the night. Your family’s longtime insurance agent who you have only seen in a saggy polo shirt tucked into triple pleated droopy slacks. Your weird uncle who is still stuck in his adolescent golden years with wearing a suit he bought in 1977 that is colored like an Easter egg and has airplane wings for lapels for your cousin’s bar mitzva. And this theme is not always taken in literally either, as it can be applied metaphorically too. Like that suburban MILF who you see tanning at your clubhouse swimming pool from 2pm to 5pm every day before she needs to pick up her daughter from soccer practice, who is probably 36 but looks 44 because of the sun damage; who drives in a monstrous white Escalade that is needed for its trunk space, not for their one child, but for the weekly even she has to pick up a special ordered dinner set for her McMansion’s dining hall. Or your regular brandwhore who has to show off Mr. Lauren’s Pony on his chest that is noticeable a half a mile away.

Good thing you and I are on a elevated civilized stature than those uneducated savages yapping below. We don’t need to flash signs of wealth to show we have class. Bigger is not always better, with the guiding principle we follow being: Understated Is Better. Because it isn’t about quantity or logos in making sensible sartorial decision, but rather keeping to the heart of if all, where choosing a specific clothing item over another is based on logical reason in placating yourself, as opposed to others. You care not to show off multiple logos or wear a huge time piece to win favor. Since, in our tribe of advanced collective groupthink, we don’t put as much emphasis on such trivialities; caring more for the minimal, the durable, and the versatile.

The audacity of “Bigger is Better” is never more true for men’s accessories than for any other wardrobe topic, with two specifically in mind. I’ve already used the example of a bling bling bling bling 60mm diamond-encrusted wristwatch that would make Chamillionaire proud. What is the other accessory that has fallen victim to continuous physical sizable upgrade?

Belts. For the love of all that is good and peaceful in this increasingly-turbulent world, can we please talk about Belts? I take issue with the insistence of most guys wanting a larger belt width and buckle size, specifically for dressing up. This issue gives me heart palpitations, friends. I cringe every time I see it, which is daily sadly. Meaning your huge ass belts are dangerous to my health as a walking heart-attack-waiting-to-happen.

Your leather belt wasn’t supposed to be 1.5 inches in width and have a metallic buckle large enough to catch radio signals from space. These kinds of belts belongs nowhere in a modern closet. Which is why its a good thing that in recent years, thanks to the Americana movement and the return to common sense, has the offering of wide belts and huge buckles from mall brands and tradly outfitters alike toned down. Yet, even those of us who know the difference between a boat shoe and a proper dress captoe when deciding what to wear to an internship interview, still sidesteps the obvious mistake of adorning an ugly black belt that is as wide as it is plastic-ey and cheap looking, in the belt loops of a pricey Brooks Brothers Milano Fit suit he took extra attention to tailor in precise accordance to CollegeTrad recommendation from yours truly. Little does he know that this one subtle but costly detail can Make or Break his otherwise dapper appearance as much as Sperrys in place of Allen Edmonds Park Avenues would do in equal damage. What good is all of the recommendations I give if a small aspect that has potentially disastrous consequences like this topic at hand spoils the whole outfit in its mishandling?

The Guide endorsed a starter set of belts and attached laws that govern a belt’s proportions. Leather belts that you’d wear for any occasion that gives the slightest of hints to a formal dress code (whether it be that earlier mentioned internship interview, a normal day at the office, or a fun sorority formal on a cruise en route to the Carribean) should always be between 1 to 1 1/8 inches in width. There is little exception I allow in this regard, given the preset factors of the leather dress belt in question, and I’ll even go further in highly recommending belts only 1″ in width. Notice how this practically rules out a noticeable share of belt selection that is currently offered in today’s market for menswear accessories. Even brands that I am generally affable towards often times sell questionable inventory. The LL Bean’s Chino Belt, Allen Edmonds’ Manistee, and the JCrew’s Classic Buckle Belt are at or above the industry longstanding marquee width of 1.25″ that is typical of the product range sold at mall brands and department stores, encouraging the misguided mainstream prep guys and other factions of the brainless masses to do wrong. Count how many times you’ve seen some spiked hair guido dressed in a neon purple dress shirt and a polyester blend pair of black pants, that is a few inches too long and too tight, that he all bought on clearance from mall brand Express. There he is, with an awful 2-in-1 reversible belt and a shiny buckle that can blind infants and elderly people. Yuck. This is not formal at all. It is clownish.

A belt that stands at a subliminal one inch of width confirms your matured duty to strive for the highest levels of refined personal style. The single inch of width and complementary adequate buckle size is large enough to be masculine, but small enough to exude ageless minimalism in the face of trendy discourse. Like I shortly mentioned above, many of the popular retailers are slimming everything down in wake of present fashions, moving away from the 1.25 to 1.5″ wide dress belts that were the standard practice just a decade ago. JCrew has taken note for a few years now by favoring 1 to 1 1/8″ widths, and the likes of Gap and Banana Republic are close behind. This is a wonderful. But even if trends go back to wide ties and plane wings for jacket lapels in another decade, you should always keep belt width at these lowered prescribed specs. For anything dressy, you want your accessories to be undertoned. Only your belts for strictly casual use can be larger in size, although not too ambitious in width either. My widest casual belt is my Orvis Shotgun Shell that I usually wear with denim standing at a contemplative 1 3/8″ width, which is only slightly wider than the regulatory 1.25 inches. Therefore to keep safe, do not go over 1 3/8 inches regardless of casual or formal use. I think 1.5″ is simply too much for any of our purposes.

Luckily, there is one kind of belt that glides smoothly along the sea of excessive bulk and poor quality, and you will never have to give it a second guess as a dependable go-to.

A sterling silver engine-turned plaque that fits a 1″ wide leather belt strap is that intrepid frigate; the one or two belts you will ever need from this point on. The plaque allows a strap to slide through, which is great for longevity as your beer belly grows from your first 21st birthday to your twentieth anniversary of your 21st, in contrast to normal buckles that are subject to hole placement. The art deco period geometric finish of the engine-turned face, consisting of parallel lined etchings running horizontal from end to end and a concentric inner rectangle place in the middle, lends symmetrical elegance to the plaque reminiscent of streamlined steampunk design in virtue of the roaring turn-of-the-century years that arose Captains of Industry. Additionally, having this single parenting plaque allows for owning multiple offspring belt straps in different leathers and colors, which makes this whole accessory one of the most versatile in your closet, as you can conveniently switch out straps with the plaque to adapt to each outfit. And you’ll see the advantage to this when you wear it year after year, since the engine-turned plaque helps keep consistency in varying outfits, thus becoming a signature article that people can attribute you by. Which makes sense why the engine-turned belt is a favorite tradly item of the most elitist of pedigrees; it is a belt that you’d expect a hotshot Wall Street guy to wear, a la in the company of Patrick Bateman and Gordon Gekko, with accompanying french cuffs and braces and all that greenback-oozing jazz. This isn’t by random chance, since the engine-turned design has been a longtime favorite since it allows for elective monogramming of namesake initials (which can also be done with engine-turned tie clips), a WASPy practice in it self that is done by someone who is most comfortable lounging in a leather chair smoking a cigar and wearing nanny reds and a cable knit sweater hanging off his shoulders with sleeves crossed. But don’t let the belt’s aurora of corporate shark-greed diminish its rightful status at the top of the belt hierarchy. A part of the trad man’s Uniform that could be worn seven days a week.

My engine-turned plaque and leather straps in dark brown calfskin on top and black alligator embossed on bottom.

GQ Magazine caught along the engine-turned plaque belt’s return to prominence in the fashion world with its endorsement for JCrew’s offering in a February 2012 issue. I had the original model that was available a few years prior circa 2007, but unfortunately the metal alloy teeth on the backside of the plaque that fed the strap through became malleable over time and gave way.

I was forced to throw away the belt. That particular JCrew model also came in pre-distressed leather (not cool for formal use) and had the plaque permanently attached to the strap, meaning you had to choose between a black or brown if you only wanted one – I chose brown for its higher use over black. Thankfully, JCrew had stepped up its game as it became urbanprep and fashion forward in the years since, and now offers an interchangeable strap in non-distressed first quality Made in USA leather at 1″ wide and removable engine-turned plaque. Not bad at a wallet-saving $59 MSRP.

We can pay respects to Mad Men once again for reminding us all how undoubtedly classic the menswear fashions of yesterhalfcentury truly were, for Don Draper can be seen in the engine-turned plaque belt, looking badass in 1964 or 2014 as I habitually say. Both belts and watches back then were at a comfortable width before ballooning up in the decades following. The lead costume designer, Janie Bryant, tried to use labels that were readily available back in the television show’s time period for reproduced authentication. For the signature belt we see Mr. Draper wear in almost every episode for his job, she sourced from trad porn store New England leather goods supplier Trafalgar based in Norwalk, CT.

I have the exact engine-turned plaque model and leather straps from Trafalgar that Don wears, although I bought them unbeknownst to me at the time after my JCrew plaque belt broke about three years ago. You’ve seen me list them in my Porn Stash regularly, because just like Don, I too have made my Trafalgar engine-turned and set of accompanying straps my signature accessory. This is because the plaque set, which I currently have in staple colors of dark brown and black shoes, is the one of many types of leather belts that I care to own that actually satisfies most all of my outfits, formal or otherwise. The exception being in my only other current dress belt, a tan LLBean Chino belt, measuring in at just under an inch, that is good for the rest of my stylings that are with tan or light brown shoes (bought from eBay for less than $10 and yet worn more than all of my $35 Leatherman Ltd motif belts combined). The two Trafalgars and the one LLBean is all I need for life’s occasions ranging from the casual to the formal. If I absolutely had to choose two belts to live with for the rest of my life, then I’d easily forgo my multiple motifs, surcingles, ribbons, and other casual leathers in place for the Trafalgar engine-turned plaque set with pairing dark brown and black straps without a moment of hesitation. This should tell you how highly I think of this item as a catch-all for an often overlooked clothing topic that is “mens belts”.

An easy fastening and unfastening of each belt strap end allows you to interchange the plaque.

As with what I presently own, I advise similarly to my readers in initially getting two straps. One strap in dark brown calfskin will be your mainstay dress belt that matches your numerous amounts of shoes in mid to dark brown, and a second in black exotic skin for the rare occasion you need to wear all black. Why have the black in that exotic invocation, you ask? That is by thoughtful arrival via deductive processing. Think about it.

Trad&Prep hates black because of how unuseful black is for for most events. You won’t see me in a solid black button down, a lone black pair of trousers, and so on. Only a pair or two of black formal shoes, notably captoes and evening pumps, are necessary black items for the Trad&Prep curriculum. If that is the case, consider the times you’ll wear these black dress shoes – with the friendly reminder of narrowing those times that definitely require a partnering belt that also should obviously be black to match the color of the shoes. Times like those require the powerful statement that innately comes with such a serious shoe and belt pairing. A funeral, the classicist’s foremost instance of appropriate events that encourage blackwear, is NOT one of those power hungry times since you should be respectfully bare in showing off your dandy persona, and therefore won’t need a belt for your black suit to begin with (while we’re on the subject… Follow this subdued approach with all of your other funeral wardrobe choices and accessories.

Be conservative with your most moderately tailored suit, which is why if you are keeping encyclopedia notes, your one and only two buttoned black suit should not be sleek as Giorgio Armani would suggest, but instead somberly fitted for the single function this said suit will perform as pallbearer. No tiebar or collarpin either, with only a subdued formal watch with black dress band. This is not the time to be fashionably forward, you should be as boxy boring trad as you can get.

I do however encourage a crisp white pocket handerchief folded into a square for the gentleman’s calling to comfort your Lady’s inevitable tears…) In similiar ruling, eveningwear after business hours does not require a belt either. Not out of humble respect necessarily, as it is for funeral decorum, but for eloquent minimalist grace that you should uphold in being a modern gentleman. Braces are the product of choice in these instances if waist support is needed at all, but especially true for tuxedos (making up your only other black suit) where belts are never worn with anyway, never never never ever. So that rules out the black belt for smartly dress evenings. Leaving weekday professional manners left.

If black captoes and matching black belt is worn with a grey or navy suit, or even otherwise for a fashionably forward chic approach to dress that touches on tactile sophistication and luxurious demeanor; then these kinds of outfits benefit from supple exotic skin that is representative of a matching lifestyle success that your cultivating appearance alludes to in both of those two creative proceedings. The natural abrasions in exotic skin patterns add affluent richness to the black leather that would otherwise brood away as boring, and since this is the opposite aesthetic you want to give in outfits of opulence, then a black strap in reptile skin is the definitive result.

Think: Ralph Lauren’s Purple and Black Labels, where that same kind of cosmopolitan inspiration domineers in these high end runway collections. Not to be worn for funerals or evening, as again you will most likely never wear a belt for these calls for understatement, but instead for power moves in the boardroom and festive evening dinners at the ballroom.

Tell ‘em who is boss! One such example of the latter instance being from my Blackwatch article, where I wore my black Allen Edmonds Grayson tassel loafers with my Trafalgar black alligator embossed strap for a holiday evening gala in similiar regards to the way I would adorn a tuxedo, albeit a belt here would make more sense for odd trousers in place of satin-striped pants. For you animal lovers and PETA extremists out there, the exotic skin can be artificial as it is in my case, or otherwise save up for the real lizard and ostrich skins once your career accolades actually warrants them. Aim for three to four straps eventually in differing shades of brown and cordovan, and keep to a lone black as that is all you will ever need.

Your tribesmen of The Brainless Masses will have multiple black belts, from Express and Gap and Target Merona. He wears these 1.25″ belts in disastrous pairings, like with a button down tucked into shorts where a surcingle or motif would’ve been infinitely better. You, the tradly spirit, knows that only one black belt suffices for the rare occasion you need it. So may as well have that black belt in an eye-pleasing exotic skin.

Exotic embossed black leathers for the belt and my Bucherer dress watch to go with black leather shoes. Silver accents in the plaque, watch case, collar pin or tie bar (with minute mentioning of an engine-turned design if you look closely). These matching accents brings an astute outfit together.

The dressy spirit of the engine-turned belt will dress up any casual or semiformal outfit. It is why I like using it often in my casual wearings as much as I do for formal; to add a bit of class when you see me pairing the belt with denim for an evening out for example, as pictured in the title picture. I’ve used the JCrew and Trafalgar engine-turned plaque for over five years now in my youthful adulthood so far, and it has never failed, as arguably my most utilized accessory. Its adaptability is quite amazing. You can’t wear a surcingle or a wide leather casual belt with a suit to your case presentation. But you can wear the plaque, as well as later that evening with raw denim and a soft cotton sportcoat for a celebratory drink.

CollegeTrad Recommends:

When you first start out in your career, you don’t want to overstep your ground level ladder rung by sticking it up to your supervisor with an overly ambitious expensive accessory. Buy a moderately-priced brass or alloy metal plaque and cheap straps for now as a stepping stone, and save up for a higher quality investment set with real sterling silver and authentic exotic skins as you climb up the ladder. Go with a silver plaque first and maybe gold later if you wish. I personally don’t think you should monogram the plaque face for a similiar reason as earlier…but that is your call, Mr. Hotshot.

Trafalgar Rhodium Over Brass Engine-Turned Plaque for 1″ wide belt straps. Made in USA. $55. Brown Glove Leather Strap for $48. Alligator Embossed Leather Strap for $50. These straps are sadly not made in USA, but Trafalgar does offer higher priced leather goods that are made domestically. *Protip: The Trafalgar company webstore rarely has a sale, but I was able to purchase with a 20% off discount around the winter holidays. Keep a look out for it. And there’s always eBay.

JCrew Classic Leather Belt. 1″ wide in black or brown straps. Removable Engine-Turned Plaque. Made in USA. $59.

Ralph Lauren Sterling Silver Engine-Turned Plaque. Fits 1″ wide straps. Made in USA. $195.

Brooks Brothers Sterling Silver Engine-Turned Plaque. Fits 1″ wide straps. Made in USA. $248.

Tiffany&Co Sterling Silver Engine-Turned Plaque. $245. (Assume to be for 1″ width, domestically made)

Paul Stuart Sterling Silver Engine-Turned Plaque. $287. (Assume to be for 1″ width, domestically made)

Ralph Lauren Silver Toned Engine-Turned Plaque and Exotic Alligator Skin. Fits 1″ wide straps. Made in Italy. $1750.

My long term goal is to have a duo set of engine-turned belt plaque and tie bar, both made in sterling silver, from Tiffany’s.This is when I will have reached the executive level. Until then, I’ll happily keep slidin’ on with my Trafalgar as a junior secretary’s assistant intern.